John Milbank first notes that Ed Milliband, the new Labour leader in the UK, is actually an atheist. Something he has actually kept rather quiet. (This is by contrast to the current Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who is now deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government and announced his atheism several months prior to the last general election.) Since Milbank is writing for an Australian audience these days he compares this with the figure of Julia Gillard. (Goodness knows why he's now writing for an Australian publication. Perhaps his suggestions about how to "improve" feminism didn't go down so well with The Guardian.)
As per usual, John decides to name a load of different writers without giving much reason for his choices. So apparently Nietzsche, Heidegger, Carl Schmitt and Louis-Ferdinand Celine are all right-wingers who are darlings of the left-wing. Milbank follows this selection up by saying:
Atheist, and especially nihilistic, Right-wingers can be applauded, even if their thinking requires a little radical-chic tweaking. (The exception clearly is the Catholic Schmitt. But it is not accidental that the bleakness of his vision caused him to regard politics in a more or less nihilistic light.)
Sorry, hang on... Heidegger was also a Christian. I can only presume that John refuses to ackonwledge this because of Heidegger's well-known Nazi party membership. This is the first time I've heard of Louis-Ferdinand Celine, so I can't really comment. Apparently he wrote anti-semitic tracts but also inspired later writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre.
As for Nietzsche's "right wing credentials", Nietzsche does have some right-wing elements. However, he's not easy to pin down. He was most certainly against anti-semitism and nationalism. While most certainly a misogynist (in the footsteps of his early inspiration Arthur Schopenhauer), he believed it important that women be educated. (Amusingly at one point Nietzsche argues that women should not be kept to the kitchen... because the kitchen is far too important to leave to women. *facepalm*) The thing to point is firstly that I have as yet to hear Nietzsche touted as an important left-wing political
thinker and secondly that Nietzsche, in spite of his misogynistic views, was actually a hero for many early feminists. Nietzsche's has all sorts of unusual perspectives to offer on a variety of topics and he writes with the firm intention of starting a fight. He wants you to disagree with him. His most important contribution to the history of western thought was his demolition of oppositional binaries. Whether it was war and peace, selfishness and piety, love and hate or good and evil, Nietzsche always tried to mix everything together to get us to see the wider picture.
Thus ends today's Nietzsche rant. On with the show...
So who are the contrasting left wing figures? "T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Joseph Ratzinger." Oh yeah, he went there. Apparently Joseph Ratzinger is a left wing figure:
the Left bizarrely ignores the way in which they advocate an ethical critique of capitalism and propose alternatives that may be both more practical and more genuinely transformatory than the average run of Social Democratic proposals.
Yeah, I'm sorry, when did Joseph Ratzinger outline a practical proposal to solve issues of Capitalism? Also, isn't that a bit rich coming from a Pope who is trying to canonise one of his forebearers who was prepared to make a deal with fascists rather than risk the Marxists (who really did
want to oppose capitalism) making any headway?
One can only conclude that what is really hated here is religion, along with certain moral stances that religion tends to advocate. And not just religion - more specifically Christianity, because the academic secular Left can sometimes forgive also Right-wing thematics if they derive from an Islamic source.
Of course, this is rubbish. If there were an Islamic figure that the left was really keen on then Milbank would not have hesitated to list it above along with all the white male authors he decided to mention. He refers to "the academic secular Left". If he'd referred to the left-wing media, he might have had more ground since we recently saw how Maryam Namazie (campaigning against the stoning of a woman for adultery) was left out of a debate
to which she had been invited to contribute, while two apologists for stoning were given screen time. However, he has instead decided to talk about academic figures where, unlike with his own ranting here, the opinion tends to be more nuanced.
Of course, where he is absolutely right is where he mentions the "moral" stances religion tends to advocate. By moral he is, of course, referring to things which you and I would consider thoroughly immoral. The Pope has most notably contested the UK's equality laws. The Pope's moral stances appear to be opposition to gay rights, opposition to women's rights and opposition to police inquiries into Church figures. Excuse me if I don't think any of those stances are terribly "left-wing".
This prompts the question: can atheism sometimes be not just incidental to a political program, but lie at its very source - as Pope Bendict recently suggested on his visit to Britain?
I think that this can indeed be true of both ostensibly Right-wing and ostensibly Left-wing programs. The Nazis tried to disenchant the world by enthroning pure material force as the only reality: in conversations Hitler admitted that even his racist rantings were but a populist gloss upon this goal.
Stalin and Mao tried to disenchant the world by removing all traces of tradition and most traces of beauty from the world. For the problem with beauty is that it is too enigmatic and unsettling in its intimations of transcendence. Was the Cultural Revolution in China driven by socialism? Surely it was driven by a ferociously virulent and scientistic secularism.
Yeah "scientistic". A new word has just been invented.
What we are looking at here is the real crux of John Milbank's comments here. What he is basically saying is "the Pope is right. You atheists are all a bunch of Nazis".
It's one more excuse to add to John Milbank's absurd campaign
for "Red Toryism" (i.e. I'm support the Tories but I'm actually really liberal donchaknow?).
At this point there's a (very) random aside about how awful Thatcher was, along with a claim that Thatcherism wasn't really compatible with religion (depsite Thatcher being a self-professed Christian).
Given the evidence that atheism itself can become a political program and seek to enact nihilism with dire results, should we not be worried about the gradual drift of the Labour party towards atheism, despite the genuine - though varied - pieties of both Blair and Brown?
I would go further, and suggest that this drift towards atheism keeps exact pace with a retreat from any genuine radicalism. The party of R.H. Tawney, the party shaped by Methodism, by Anglo-Catholic socialism and the legacy of British philosophical Idealism, was a party that sought to create an entirely ethical market, whether through State intervention or (in my view more promisingly) through mutualist association.
But the largely secular party we have today essentially agrees with the Right about the inevitably amoral character of the market, a view that is increasingly backed-up by new modes of social Darwinism.
"New modes of social Darwinism"? What the hell is he on about?
By the way, the idea that "atheism and secularism are nihilistic" is a common refrain in John Milbank's work. Don't you just love how his method of justifying this position to his popular (rather than academic) audience, is to note how lovely and perfect one random unsuccessful political party was?
Let's also not forget that the "piety of Blair" apparently encouraged him that it was good idea to go to war with Iraq when we still hadn't finished our war with Afghanistan under the ridiculous pretense of weapons of mass destruction. In an interview with Michael Parkinson, Blair claimed that he asked God for guidance in this decision....
After a while of asserting that neo-liberalism and democratic socialism are pretty much the same thing before finally asserting that what they really need is Jesus, John Milbank finally calls atheism "totalitarian". But not before insisting that only atheists would have any problem with the monarchy and a political body traditionally run by the aristocracy and of course, we're opposed to Churches (rather than simply not wanting to make use of them ourselves) and we're opposed to the family (do I really need to explain how dodgy this assertion is in view of John Milbank's "critique" of feminism?
A programmatic atheism is at work in the growing hostility to the Crown, to the House of Lords (which needs reform, not total mutation into a second House of Commons which would likely be a less radical body), to the Churches, to the family and to group-rights, and in favour of foxes, exclusively metropolitan life-styles and absolute value-pluralism.
Indeed, it can sometimes appear that for sections of today's Left, as for past totalitarianisms, a naturalistic atheism is the main program. This is why political categorisation is increasingly made in terms of attitudes to sexual issues, to traditional cultures and to religious belief, rather than to issues of substantive economic justice. 'Culture wars' have come to displace older debates about just distribution.
But the evidence of history is that the politics of atheism drifts towards a nihilism of the rule of power alone. The evidence is equally that advocacy of the sovereign power of the individual soon gives way in practice to the absolute power of the amoral market and of the sovereign State whose only purpose is itself.
As opposed to the sovereign state of the past whose only purpose was the sovereign.
John Milbank's full article can be found here
I've also cut and pasted it below for the hell of it: ( Read more... ) Article discussed on ONTD_Political
Article discussed on Atheism